1 John 3:19-20: By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure (or “persuade”) our heart before him; 20 for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.
It seems that this passage is a digression in the text. If we re-read 1 John 3:11-18, we are prone to think Papa John is changing the topic, but he is not; he is merely clarifying something in the middle of calling the church to love God by loving people…
What does Papa John mean when he says “for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.”? I think he’s meaning a few things. I will share with you what most commentators say He is meaning, and then I will add to what I think it could also refer to in addition to what commentators have said.
Commentator Colin Kruse says: “whenever [our] hearts object to legitimate calls upon [our] generosity when [we] are in fact in a position to respond. To assist his readers to persist in the necessary process of self-persuasion, the author provides them with a compelling reason for doing so: For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything… should it happen that our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts. The statement ‘God is greater than our hearts’ in this context seems to mean that God does not share in the meanness that is so often found in human hearts. His generosity is far greater, his compassion towards the needy much greater, than theirs. This fact should function as a reason for them to overcome the meanness of their own hearts and to seek to be like their God. When the author continues, ‘and he knows everything’, he is reminding his readers that any meanness of heart on their part will not go unnoticed by an omniscient God. As was the case in Deuteronomy 15:7-9, so too here, God knows what his people do, and judges them accordingly.”1
So according to Kruse, he believes Papa John is speaking to the sinner, the one who is not loving his brother or sister, and he’s reminding us that God is greater and more loving than we are, and will discipline his children who aren’t living in light of the gospel. Now, while I agree with Kruse, I also believe that Papa John is speaking to not just the sinner, but the sinned against, the one who is being mean to themselves because of their past story or wounds. The one who can’t get past themselves and their own condemnation of themselves. One who has a condemned heart most of the time…
A Condemned Heart:
Condemnation is not a little problem. This is because sin is not a little problem. Sin is ugly, evil, divisive, and relentless. It brings us low when we are honest with it. Shame comes because of sin and we feel beat up and worthless because of the evil that we see in ourselves or evil done to ourselves by others. Condemnation is no small problem.
Some people define condemnation as shame. So for today, I will hold together these two words; condemnation and shame; as meaning the same thing. Justin and Lindsey Holcomb in their book Rid of My Disgrace, define shame as such: “Shame is a painfully confusing experience—a sort of mental and emotional disintegration that makes us acutely aware of our inadequacies, shortcomings, and is often associated with a shrinking feeling of failure.” (90).
Steve Tracy, in his book Mending the Soul, defines shame as “a deep, painful sense of inadequacy and personal failure based on the inability to live up to a standard of conduct–one’s own [standard] or one imposed by others.” (74). Tracy goes on to state that, an implication of shame being a failure to live up to a certain standard, is that shame produces a sense of self-loathing.
Tracy also makes a distinction between healthy shame (for example: we do not run naked across football fields because healthy shame keeps us in our seats with our clothes on… for most people I should say! and when we fantasize about doing it, the healthy shame comes from conviction of our sin (or sin we want to commit), which leads us to the cross and redemption. Unhealthy shame (or toxic shame), is shame that persists in sabotaging ourselves and never leads us to the cross or redemption.
I have taken the time to define and explain shame in this way because I believe the more clearly we can define it, the more clearly we can see how shame interrupts our confidence in what God has done in us, or offered to us. In a book called Wounded Heart, Dan Allender describes four elements of shame. I want to unpack three of them this morning as we are exploring why our hearts condemn us before God:
1) Being Exposed (61-63):
The things we do in private that we are comfortable doing are not seen as shameful, but if these private things become public knowledge or seen in public, then we would be full of shame. Take nose picking for instance: We can freely pick our noses in the privacy of our own homes or cars, but we would never dare to pick our noses in a mall or a busy restaurant in the middle of a conversation with a colleague. Allender says that “shame is an experience of the eyes…it requires the presence of another, in fact or in imagination, for its affect to be felt.” (61).
This is seen in the response we see from Adam and Eve in Genesis 3 when they hid from God. This kind of exposure can cause us to do things that seem irrational, such as trying to hide from an omnipresent God with mere fig leaves or a small bush. On the outside, we see this action as foolish, but if you were in their shoes feeling what they felt, you would likely follow suit. A fear of being exposed can keep us under shame of our hidden sin that needs to be exposed for victory’s sake. Allender says, “Legitimate shame exposes depravity, and illegitimate shame shines a light on some element of dignity.” (63).
2) Dread of Consequences (67-68):
The dread of consequences is being the fear of being rejected once we are found out. When someone perceives us as being deficient, rejection (or feelings of being rejected) is almost always the end result. Allender states that “if life and continued relationship with our false god (our performance + approval of others) depends on the quality of our sacrifice, then performance is required for life.” (67). This is a tiresome journey of trying to manage our behavior and the way people view us. This is enough to emotionally break anyone down if continued for a prolonged period of time.
Dread of consequence can get so intense, that approval based on our performance can easily become our reason for living. If at some point we can’t maintain our performance, then the condemnation we feel is so huge that we can’t find much reason to live, and we stop running to Jesus. The cost of being rejected becomes too great, so we don’t even give of ourselves to the Lord, our spouse, pursue healthy relationships that have the chance of “working out”, etc… The dread of shame stems from the fear of being permanently abandoned or discarded by others, including God.
3) Loss of Trust (68-71):
The final aspect of shame that Allender outlines complicates our condemnation all the more; namely, trust. When trust is absent in a relationship where approval is deeply desired, shame is compounded and messier than ever. For example, if we have placed someone on a pedestal in our life and we live for their approval, and one day they break our trust or we break their trust, our lives are shattered. We are shattered because we live to please that person whom we’ve given a role that only God can assume; judgement of us. No one, listen to me…. NO ONE! ultimately has the right to judge in the way that gives or takes life, except God alone. For anyone in our life to be given that right over us, means that we are worshipping them as god, which is idolatry.
Idolatry is looking to anyone or anything to give us something that only God can. Idolatry can also be looked at as worshiping anything or anyone other than God. When we fail our idol or our idol fails us (and we can be sure both will happen), then we will experience shame. This is obviously debilitating to us, and idolatry will never lead us to be free (in any area) the way God intended. Scripture is clear on this (Matt. 6:24; Col. 3:5-6).
As long as we are not willing to let legitimate shame lead us to repentance, then toxic shame will be the normal and predictable outcome in our lives; and when we live in this shame, we are robbed of the ability to love God and others (and ourselves) like we’ve learned in the previous passages we’ve gone through in this series. Shame and condemnation is a prison that locks us up, and if we stay there long enough, we will soon realize that we are numb to Christ’s love for us and unable to receive the truth of who we are in Him.
We can read Romans 8:1 (There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus) all day long and believe with all our hearts that there is no condemnation over us because Christ removed it, but still at the end of the day, we will allow our sin to be more of a reality to us than the forgiveness that comes from Jesus. Because of this problem, I know of nothing else other than to see what Jesus thinks about this and take you in front of Him and how He responds to those full of self-condemnation.
Open up to Luke 7:36 with me and let’s take a look into a little story that unfolds with Jesus, a religious leader, and a prostitute:
36 One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.”
In other words, “How dare Jesus let this scandalous woman come in and do this to Him… do you know what this could lead to or what this could look like to others… let alone she being unclean and unable to come into the Lord’s house!”
Look at how Jesus responds to Simon the Pharisee: 40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.” 41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii (one denarii = one day’s worth of wages), and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Jesus forgives sinners! This is what He does. He is full of grace, and He hates pretense and will not be patient for hidden sin and self-righteousness.
Brothers and sisters, I want us to consider this morning, that maybe (this may not be true for the masses) your condemned heart is really a heart that has only received little forgiveness because there has been little acknowledgement and truth about your own heart. He who has been forgiven much (which means that the person who has been forgiven much has confessed much and been more truthful with their sin), loves much.
Confidence in God:
And as we continue in our passage this morning, He who has been forgiven much is not condemned anymore, but is confident before God.
21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us (we are loving our brothers and not living in toxic shame), we have confidence before God; 22 and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.
To have God who is all-wise, all-powerful, and all-loving be “for you”, to be on your side, to be devoted to your welfare; O’ there can be no greater source of confidence. This is the core of the gospel (Gen. 12:1-3). Receive what God has given to you (blessing in Christ) so that you can obey Him and bless others (share Christ). We cannot be obedient when we are condemning ourselves.
When we majorly blow it and remove ourselves from everyone who loves and knows us, including the Lord, and then continue to punish ourselves because we feel that we deserve it; then we are essentially saying to Jesus: “Your sacrifice on the cross wasn’t enough for my sin. I need to punish myself a little more because of what I did, then I’ll re-engage with You, Your Word, and Your people.” This is not believing the gospel!
Obedience to God:
And this is what God requires of us:
23 …that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.
Don’t read this disconnected to what we just went over. Confidence in the love of God is the prerequisite for us to be loving toward others and live in obedience to God. This has been God’s plan all along to produce a people who display His beauty and worth.
The apostle Paul puts it this way in Galatians 5:6 when he says that the only thing that really means anything to God is “faith expressing itself through love.” Trusting Jesus and loving one another is the grand summary of the Bible. They must hang together.
Only when we are assured that God is for us and not condemning us, do we become free to put another person’s interest above our own; only then can we give, expecting nothing in return. But it works the other way around as well. This confidence toward God is built up, strengthened, and reassured as a result of loving our brothers & sisters.
And this only happens as we take Jesus at His word that He came to forgive sinners and that there is no more condemnation for those who have trusted in Jesus…
– Only then will our fear of being exposed be melted away.
– Only then will our dread of consequences stop imprisoning us.
– Only then will our trust and hope in man not control us.
– Only then will you be able to love God and love people in a sacrificial way…